Depending on where you are in the world, there is the possibility that the feast of the Ascension will supersede the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The Ascension fell on May 18 this year and either your local diocese or conference of bishops will have decided which readings will be used for this Sunday. So, to cover all my bases, the reflection here is a reflection on the Feast of the Ascension. The YouTube video for the week considers the Gospel for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. No matter which place you went first, and even if you don’t make it to the other reflection, I hope that something here will be meaningful for your week.
It in interesting that we hear the story of the Ascension as told by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles for the First Reading, and then the Great Commission from St. Matthew for the Gospel. This is the final moment of Matthew’s Gospel, it is how he concludes the whole story.
I love reading different Bible translations. I find language fascinating and if I could have all the time in the world, I think I would have studied Biblical Greek and Hebrew so I could go back and read these texts in their original forms. One Bible translation I find particularly interesting (I’ve mentioned this before in other posts, but it’s been a while), is called The Message. It is originally a Protestant translation, but there is a version which includes the books the Catholic Church maintains as the original canon of Scripture. This translation was intended to be a more “modern” translation. The translator, a pastor named Eugene H. Peterson, explains it this way:
I became a ‘translator’…daily standing in on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sing songs and talk to our children.The Message, pg. 12
Peterson is good about being upfront that this Bible isn’t meant to replace other study Bibles or translations used for liturgical practices. This is a reading Bible, a “let’s get to know one another” Bible. I love how he chose to translate the passage I quoted above.
It is the same thing, but I find the word “train” to hit a little differently. I also find the phrase, “in this way of life” impactful. In order to train someone, first we have to know what we are teaching. For a lot of us, this might make us suddenly uncomfortable. This even makes me uncomfortable to a certain extent. For a large part of the Church’s history, the laity were not part of the teaching apparatus of the Church. Clergy and religious, who were able to receive additional schooling, time for prayer, mentorship, etc., were the ones looked to for passing down the faith. As time has passed, the Holy Spirit has inspired the Church to encourage all the baptized to take Jesus’ Great Commission to heart. These words aren’t simply for clergy, they are for all disciples.
Each one of us is called to be a disciple. A disciple is someone who not only follows a master, but promotes and spreads those teachings which they have received. Jesus lays out for us very clearly what He expects of His disciples. And it’s not always easy, especially when you consider Peterson’s translation in The Message. We are asked to train everyone you meet. Everyone? Even people we don’t like? Even people we will only interact with once? Even people we converse with online?
This is the thing about the Great Commission of Jesus. To be a disciple doesn’t mean living according to the teachings of Jesus when it’s convenient, or on Sunday mornings. It is an all or nothing kind of thing.
But before you get scared away. Consider this. Jesus doesn’t ascend into heaven to get away from us. Pope Francis explains it better than I can in his homily for the Feast of the Ascension in 2014:
“Jesus departs, he ascends to Heaven, that is, he returns to the Father from whom he had been sent to the world. He finished his work, thus, he returns to the Father. But this does not mean a separation, for he remains forever with us, in a new way. By his ascension, the Risen Lord draws the gaze of the Apostles — and our gaze — to the heights of Heaven to show us that the end of our journey is the Father. He himself said that he would go to prepare a place for us in Heaven. Yet, Jesus remains present and active in the affairs of human history through the power and the gifts of his Spirit; he is beside each of us: even if we do not see him with our eyes, He is there! He accompanies us, he guides us, he takes us by the hand and he lifts us up when we fall down. The risen Jesus is close to persecuted and discriminated Christians; he is close to every man and woman who suffers. He is close to us all; he is here, too, with us in the square; the Lord is with us! Do you believe this? Then let’s say it together: the Lord is with us!”
How beautiful is this! We are called to be disciples, but we do not do it alone. Never alone. The tasks of discipleship are challenging. We can’t get around that. This feast forces us to take a good look at our lives. Are we living out the tasks Jesus has given us? How can we more fully realize Jesus’ desire for our lives? Where is Jesus calling you to go out and train everyone you meet?